October 7, 2009

Getting Hitched to NYMF with "Marrying Meg"

The New York Musical Theatre Festival has been around for 26 years now.  Among the more illustrious NYMF alumni are shows like Altar Boyz, Next to Normal and [title of show].  So I have no excuse for never having gone to one of the festival productions.  Except for a bad case of festival phobia.  Festivals offer so many choices that I suffer the symptoms of Stendhal syndrome and by the time I've recovered my senses it's too late to see any of them.

But this year, I discovered the Broadway Bullet podcast and its host Michael Gilboe provided such terrific previews of 21 of NYMF's 30 full productions, complete with two musical selections from each (click here to hear them) that I was able to summon up the courage to overcome my trepidations.  And so on Saturday afternoon, I went to see my first NYMF show: Marrying Meg at the Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th. 

Why that one?  Well a large number of the Festival shows tend to be spoofs or variations on campy monsters, vampires and other goofy ghouls and the horrors of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein have left a bad taste in my mouth for those.  A few NYMF productions are imports sung in foreign languages (like the Korean My Scary Girl and the Spanish Anjou) and others sounded like outtakes from somebody’s Guitar Hero sessions.  But I liked the musical excerpts I heard for Marrying Meg and its creator Mark Robertson, a Scot with an easy sense of humor, came across in Gilboe’s preview as a nice guy who, as he says in his program notes, simply wants to make the audience smile.  Which he did.

Marrying Meg is based on Scottish playwright Alexander Reid’s 1950 play The Lass with the Muckle Mou.  It combines two folktales to tell the whimsical story of a medieval troubadour who’s struggling to write a ballad and a nobleman’s daughter who can’t find a husband because she has such a big mouth. Robertson has tweaked the story to draw a comparison between troubadours and their modern-descendants: celebrity journalists.  And he’s added lots of funny songs (plus a couple of ballads, although those aren’t his strong suit).  

The result is no more than a really good children’s theater piece.  But that was fine with me because I once studied with two co-founders of the Paper Bag Players. I know how hard it is to do good theater for kids and how important it is to do it well so that they grow up thinking that going to the theater is a cool thing to do.

There were six little girls sitting two rows in front of me (since all NYMF tickets are just $20, it cost less for all of them to see Marrying Meg than it would have for one of them to see Shrek) and they were delighted, sitting literally on the edges of their seats as one of the reluctant suitors was taken to the gallows after refusing to marry the nobleman’s daughter. It was fun to watch kids enjoying a witty and entertaining show that didn’t feel the need to show how hip it was by throwing in gratuitous profanity (although it did succumb to some fart jokes).

It’s too late for you to see it because the musical’s four-performance run ended last night.  And  the show is unlikely to be picked up for a larger production but I’m writing about it anyway because it’s my first NYMF show. And because it made me see how valuable the festival can be for theater folks who want to experiment with musicals (something that can no longer be done in Broadway's high-stakes arena), for theater lovers who want to see the genre grow and for the theater fans of tomorrow like the kids at Marrying Meg. So go see a NYMF show before the festival ends on Oct. 18.  You may even see me there.  

No comments: